The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca

by Tahir Shah

Hardcover, 2006

Call number

964.38 S



Bantam (2006), Edition: First Edition, 348 pages


"When Tahir Shah decided to follow his dream of buying and restoring a vast crumbling ruin of a palace in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, he soon learned that he and his family had bought a great deal more than they'd bargained for. For one thing, Dar Khalifa, or the Caliph's House, came equipped with three guardians inherited from the previous owner. But that wasn't all. In Morocco, an empty house attracts jinns - invisible, often mischievous, sometimes malign spirits - and Dark Khalifa seemed to have attracted more than its fair share."."In The Caliph's House, Shah tells the story of his family's first year in Casablanca, of their tumultuous time learning Moroccan ways, renovating the house, and exorcizing its jinns. Shah's search for the craftsmen, artisans and array of other people and things needed to put the house in order leads him out into this exotic, mysterious kingdom, to Tangier, Fez, Marrakech, the High Atlas mountains and the Sahara. It also sends him on another journey - in the footsteps of a grandfather he never really knew."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

Media reviews

Academy for Christian Thought
Although this fun book claimed to be a real account of Shah's adventure in Casablanca with a fixer upper, it soon becomes clear that he took significant journalistic license to weave a memorable story. The Moroccan preoccupation with djinns (genies) was the central character of this melodrama and through Shah's eyes, we get a comical glimpse of life in modern Morocco. I read this book with great anticipation and once I came to terms with the literary devices he used to create a fictional narrative, I enjoyed the book immensely. This is a marvelous introduction to the mosaic that makes up Maroc or Maghreb, as the locals call their wonderful country. The gist of the story is a jaded Scottish-Afghan Londoner of Persian stock married to an Indian wife with 2 young kids making a go at migrating to the former French Morocco. He purchased a dilapidated Dar (courtyard house) and spent an entire year coaxing the colorful local craftmen to redeem its former glory with varying levels of success. The last few pages was splendidly crafted to move the reader to the brink of tears as he revealed the kindness of the locals behind the adamant traditions that bind them. This telling of a personal story is reminiscent of the ancient story tellers of Israel whose accounts informed the writers of the Old Testament, where historical events were weaved into memorable vignettes and embellished to emphasize theological claims. Tahir Shah is a master story teller and I look forward to his other offerings. That a writer can bring a smile of inner joy to readers he will never meet signals the high art of the craft we call writing. Long may we treasure this most human of capabilities - the make sense of the world and transmit it through geography and history.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bkswrites
Another amusing collection of anecdotes, and I did learn a lot about Moroccan (or at least Casablancan) culture. But there's no real story to follow, and the anecdotes are too self-centered. Since Shah took his whole family to live in Dar Kalifa, including a very young baby, I wanted to know how on earth his wife put up with it. We hear that Tahir wanted to stay forever in the hotel to which they escaped from unwelcome guests. I can only imagine what a woman with an infant would feel, particularly because Rachana Shah comes into that anecdote only as the sounding board for Tahir's frustration.

And then there are the children. We hear that Ariane goes to school, but learn nothing about how that goes for her. We get to see her father make one mistake after another that could traumatize a young child for years — dead cats, huge rats, strange people trooping and falling through the house, poisonous plants in the garden, and of course the goat. These kids are either incredibly tough cookies or wackos, and I'm not sure which disturbs me more.

Most of all, I think I resent learning nothing of what living through this year meant to Shah as a writer (other than providing a new source of royalties, possibly to finance his writing something more interesting). Not until the very last pages do we see him doing any writing, and learn that he's doing it in fountain pen. Well, that at least tells me something about his romanticism, but I wish he'd let that romanticism and a few fully fleshed characters infect the rest of the book.
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LibraryThing member debnance
Tahir Shah wearies of London and its safe banality. He finally convinces his pregnant wife to buy a disaster of a mansion in Morocco and relocate there with their young daughter. From the beginning, their adventure feels doomed. Cats are found hanging by ropes from trees, strangled. The next door neighbor is the mysterious head of the Casablanca Mafia. Renovation efforts are led by a team of workers who can’t seem to complete anything. Everyone seems to believe in diabolical jinns, spirits who live in the mansion and who appear to want the family to abandon the house. Banality starts looking better and better to Tahir.… (more)
LibraryThing member akeela
In an attempt to realise his "delusions of grandeur", Shah moves to Morocco with his family of four, from London, buys an expansive house set on an acre of ground and starts renovating it to make it more habitable. Apparently the house had been vacant for ages. This delightful memoir spans the year of renovations and of coming-to-terms with the sometimes outlandish customs of the locals. This was well-written and very entertaining!… (more)
LibraryThing member varielle
Anyone who has ever taken on the challenge of remodeling an older home will shake their head in wonder at the fortitude of Tahir Shah in facing the monumental task of modernizing a rambling, but beautiful old wreck on the edge of a slum in Casablanca. Even more astonishing was his wife's patience with this never-ending, jinn plagued task. He left his London flat with his wife and two small children to live in his future dream home (read money pit). No matter the culture, carpenters, masons, plumbers and the rest of that lot share a universal brotherhood that could drive the sanest home owner mad. Shah eventually surrenders his western attitudes and relaxes into the wheeling-dealing world that is Morocco.… (more)
LibraryThing member teaperson
Quite the home renovation project from heck. In Morocco, the author finds that you can't get workmen, you need to buy supplies from them on the black market, and they never finish. But he tells it with British good humor. I was slightly annoyed at first that the author's move to Casablanca seemed designed mainly to produce a travel book, not for any other reason. But I got caught up in the great characters he met, and genuinely got a better sense of parts of life in Morocco.… (more)
LibraryThing member aahlvers
The Caliph's House: A Year In Casablanca by Shah is a humorous look at the Moroccan people and culture from an outsider's perspective. Shah does a great job at presenting the humor and affection for the culture when describing disastrous moments (of which there were many) as well as the every day details about his new home. I love these kind of books where expatriate are offered advice by a series of well intentioned but ultimately baffling local residents.… (more)
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
Tahir Shah quits the comfortable convenience of London with his wife and young children, and buys a beautiful, but run-down, estate in Casablanca. The book is about his first year's experiences in Casablanca, and is a more gruelling "Year in Provence."

I struggled through parts of the book. I found the story to be captivating, but when a writer describes a difficult experience well, it can prove to be a difficult reading experience too, and I certainly found that to be the case. Shah's writing style was also sometimes distracting - he has a tendency to run from one topic to another, keeping each story ultrashort, when perhaps it would have been better had he kept to one issue at a time and explored each more fully.

Still, a really worthwhile read for the insights it offers into Moroccan living.
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LibraryThing member allison.sivak
Reading Shah's other books, I thought he was a very together, maverick, confident man. But this read as obsessive, and manic. Maybe those are the traits that would allow someone to try and dive into other cultures and lands the way Shah has.
LibraryThing member Stevejm51
Tahir Shah's memoir is a fascinating glimpse into the every day life of an family living in a rundown mansion in Casablanca. Tired of the dull gray life of London, Shah buys a rambling home and moves his family into one of the mansion's rooms. He contracts with architects and artisans to renovate the house, but the presence of spirits, or Jinns, makes even the most simple job complicated. There is humor on every page as Shah struggles to understand life in Morocco.… (more)
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Everyone has a story of an event in their lives; how they met their sparkling spouse, how they came into their fascinating occupation, how they started an odd hobby for which they are extremely passionate. The most interesting stories are the ones that are life changing; an abrupt 180 degree turn from where they used to be. A hobby turning into a business so they can quit their dead end job, for example. Tahir Shah has such a story in The Caliph's House. The London based travel writer was looking to move to Morocco. Tired of grey weather and bland food, he wanted to get back to the culture of his ancestry. After many false starts a classmate of his mother's contacted him out of the blue in 2004 with an offer he couldn't refuse: the sale of Dar Khalifa, the once home of a Caliph, a spiritual leader of Casablanca. Even though this is a story about living through a house renovation it goes beyond tiles and plumbing. Shah explores what it means to buy and restore a house in a post 911 society. Morocco struggles to be a paradise of tolerance. At the same time, Shah becomes intimately and intensely aware of "how things get done" when he hires a man of ill repute to be his right hand man. Encounters with thieves, possible murderers, even the mob are the norm. But, it is the exorcism that readers all wait for with breath held. Who in their right mind would slaughter a goat in every room of a mansion-sized abode?… (more)
LibraryThing member michaelgambill
A mildly engaging book that provides insight into a portion of Moroccan culture and generated in me a desire to know more. I found it far from hysterically funny as others have indicated, however it managed arouse an smile on a couple of occasions. As a person that disdains fiction writing I was at times irked with the narrative suspecting that many of his adventures were largely a product of his imagination or grossly embellished. His cultural blindness, lapses in sensitivity, and general ineptness was a bit too glaring and inconsistent to be believable. Perhaps this is the vehicle he uses to bring insight into his encounter with Moroccan culture but as a voracious reader of history I first of all want an accurate representation of the events. Maybe this is too much to ask from travel writing.… (more)
LibraryThing member nemoman
Shah tires of London's dreary climate. He decides to pack up his family and move to Morocco. His grandfather had lived in Tangiers and he remembered exotic vacations as a boy driving through the Atlas Mountains. After looking in Fes and Marrakesh, he locates a fixer-upper in Casablanca, known locally as the Caliph's house, or Dar Khalifa.

The ensuing tribulations of trying to restore the home, using local architects and craftsmen is reminiscent Mayle's A Year In Provence. It is a deeper book than that, however, if only because Moroccan tribal culture is much more complex and exotic than rural southern French culture. For example, Shah has to hire 25 tribal exorcists to stay at the house, and practice rituals, including the killing of a wild goat, to exorcise the evil Jinns that infest the house.

Shah writes well and the book is a humorous, fun read. Moreover, Shah has posted numerous informative videos on youtube that enrich the reading experience. Excellent travel literature.
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LibraryThing member kaitanya64
Shah, who is Anglo-Afghani, buys an old house in Morocco and moves his family to a new continent and a new life. The book details his cultural adventures as well as his struggles to revive and renovate the beautiful but decrepit house of his dreams.
LibraryThing member Auntie-Nanuuq

I actually began reading this book several years ago & put it down as I didn't have the interest to finish it, but I guess "Things Change"....

In 2004, Tahir Shah, purchased a house in Casablanca, Morocco known as Dar Khalifa. It was once owned by wealthy people but had fallen into disrepair and it had the distinction of being on the border of the slums.....

Upon arriving Shah & his family came upon the "guardians" of Dar Khalifa, who of course were more than reluctant to accept the family & the changes they proposed to make to the the house & property, lest they displease Qandisha, the resident Jinn (who was eventually "exorcised").

Not one to be discouraged, Shah went ahead with the onerous project, meeting & dealing w/ more than one "difficult" party.... In the process he did meet a few friends of his grandfather's and made many new friends as well......

It amazed me, that a man of well being, who himself was from Afghanistan, allowed himself to be so cowed by the people who worked for him!

But it was an interesting book, well written and rather detailed towards the end describing the interior construction of the house.
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LibraryThing member BJAppelgren
If you like memoirs, read The Caliph's House by Idries Shah's son Tahir Shah. He moves his wife and children into an abandoned property with beautiful potential and in the story of its renovation creates a rich picture of the culture. He charms the reader with depicting himself as a bumbling and accepting man open to differences in people and their ways. A delight!
A friend, Hillel Natanson adds, "It's an entertaining story that unmasks at least some of the mystery of Moroccan culture. His self-deprecating portrait lightens up a story that in other hands might have been a bit heavy and tedious. I second the recommendation.
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